It all started off innocently enough. It was a crisp autumn day in late September, and our little family was on a little getaway to visit our friends on their little organic farm.* We were envisioning a wholesome weekend of organic labour in the sunshine, powered by organic eggs laid by their organic hens. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
The hens took one look at us and went on a laying strike. And our two little broads surprisingly didn’t morph into useful’n’hearty farmhand helpers. Instead, they kept begging to go back to the orchard where they could fill their apparently hollow legs with a never-ending quantity of gently rotting apples from the ground.
When the wee one couldn’t possibly stuff any more apples down her gullet, we went inside for naptime. And that’s when things got interesting. My friend made the mistake of pressing an immaculate copy of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” into my hands. Where it remained for the duration of the weekend. Inside its pages, a tiny, elegantly-minimalist Japanese lady promised me that my entire life would drastically improve if only I could get my house organized. All I had to do was categorically go through every single item under my roof, and keep only the ones that “sparked joy” – the KonMari method. That’s it. Granted, she seemed a little obsessive, and some of her methods were borderline creepy (having conversations with dolls and refusing to stack clothes vertically so as not to exhaust hardworking fabric), but she had me at tidy house.
Maybe we didn’t need to move out of our tiny house. Maybe we just needed to remove every single object that didn’t “spark joy.” (when I say “we” I mean “I.” And when I say “spark joy” I mean “spark joy for mommy.”) I spent the entire drive back to Calgary twitching with anticipation.
The first thing I did once we got home was to ignore most of Ms. Kondo’s careful guidelines. My best/worst character trait is the ability to “get the gist” of something. Just call me Ruth “Skim” Richert. As long as I focused on getting stuff out of my house, it would work out, I figured. Her first recommendation is to go through your home category by category. For example, if you are organizing clothes, you are supposed to put every single item of clothing in your house in a pile, and go through it item by item, keeping only those that, you guessed it, spark joy. I could just imagine the sheer joy that would be sparked in my children as they rolled in piles of clothing, and decided to scrap that rule. Instead, I decided to just tackle whatever was in my line of vision at any given moment when I wasn’t feeding or cleaning up after my children. Roughly equivalent, right?
And so began my six-week cleaning trance. Unlike Ms. Kondo, there is nothing zen-like about me while I clean. I enter a sort of aggression-fuelled, obsessive state, where I am unable to focus on anything but my surroundings and how badly I want to get rid of stuff. I am not particularly pleasant to live with, and I develop this irritating sense of urgency: “Todd? Todd?! Do you really need to keep that hideous hat? I don’t think you do. Make up your mind now. Get rid of it!! I’m going to the Salvation Army NOW!!! GAHHHHH!!! (sound of me choking on my own spit)” I basically hyperventilate.
Rage aside, it was quite the learning experience. I learned that the Salvation Army will take basically any donations, from craft supplies to old curtains to one of Todd’s heavily annotated study guides that somehow got into the mix (uh…oops. Sorry, honey). I felt a little awkward sparking joy in myself by offloading my stuff on someone else, but the staff always seemed grateful. And every time I donated, I got a $10 off coupon, so that I can replace all the stuff I just got rid of. A perfect loop!
I also learned that my shelves were full of books that I will either never read or never read again. Some of them were there for sentimental reasons, but the majority I kept around because I thought they made me look smart. I mean, there’s no way that I was going to pick up “The Communist Manifesto” when I was in the mood for a little bedtime reading, but it seemed like the kind of book that a smart person would have on their shelf. So now my shelves look a lot stupider, but I don’t feel guilty every time I look at that Noam Chomsky book that I will never read.
My children can make do with fewer toys than I thought. Any toy that wasn’t loved/used either got passed on to friends or donated. I never realized how much my girls don’t notice. They didn’t notice when their toy kitchen disappeared from our kitchen. They didn’t notice when their doll beds disappeared. Or when half their stuffed animals left. They just did not notice. There was one boneheaded moment when we went shopping at the Salvation Army with our $10 off coupon shortly after I donated a bunch of their toys, but fortunately, they were no longer on display.
After I had dug through every nook and cranny in our ancient house, including the Christmas decorations and the super-creepy old coal cellar that I refer to as the “death hole,” Todd finally convinced me to call it quits. There were still a few bursts of rage-painting the walls (try it sometime! But remember the drop cloths) and aggression-organizing, but I largely simmered down.
I can’t say that my life feels miraculously different now. And it still contains objects that don’t spark joy (Todd’s hideous straw hat, ahem). But I definitely feel more organized and tidy (with the side effect of possibly also being more anal-retentive), and I know where to find everything now. There’s a layer of stuff that’s been added to our little house through the Christmas season and the girls’ birthdays, so maybe it’s time for another trip to the farm and a quick review of the KonMari method.
Has anyone tried the KonMari method? Any successes/failures? I want to hear about it!
*If you live in the Edmonton area and are considering a CSA box this summer, check out Anthem Hills Family Farm. Beautiful produce grown by some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.